If you’re like many managers, your top priority when hiring employees is making sure they can do the job. Sounds simple, right?
Actually, there’s another factor to consider. Effective leaders worry less about whether candidates possess all the technical skills to do the job. Instead, they concentrate on an individual’s psychological makeup.
Just ask David Siegel, former CEO of US Airways. He now runs XOJET, a private aviation firm in San Carlos, Calif.
Siegel prizes technical proficiency and relevant experience when seeking to fill important positions. But he cares even more about a candidate’s inner strength, mental discipline and commitment to the team because “you can teach technical things, but you can’t teach someone to develop character.”
He admits that character issues are hard to quantify in a job interview. While administering personality assessments can help, Siegel prefers “to conduct my own armchair psychological study,” he says with a laugh.
A Harvard Business School graduate, Siegel likes to stage situational job interviews. These involve questions such as, “Tell me about a business problem that you faced in your last position and how you addressed it” and “Tell me about a time you made a costly mistake at work—and how you dealt with it.”
“I ask those type of questions,” he says. “But I also spend time trying to understand the candidate’s psychological profile.”
Siegel seeks to discover interviewees’ life story. He’s especially interested in how they grew up, what their neighborhood was like and how they selected which college to attend. He also probes to find out their rationale for recent career moves.
Candidates who have demonstrated mental toughness and sacrificed for the good of the team are particularly attractive, he says. Even if they lack all the technical prerequisites for the job, he’s more apt to hire people who have handled pressure well and placed their employer’s interests before their own.